First Snow Saturday Morning

Here in Chicagoland, we are having our first snow of the season, one of those spectacularly beautiful and quiet storms that allows the snow to stick to the tree limbs.  Saturday morning is a pleasant time, in the warm weather months the day that I get a ride in with my friends.  When the snow hits our first instinct is to lament that the snow has put the brakes on our regularly scheduled ride.  Snow before the first freeze makes the trails muddy and slick, not good or appropriate for riding.  Not only does the mud cover the bike and damage shifting components, but riding muddy trails damages the trails.  Additionally, riding in mud is not as much fun as it sounds.  I could ride the streets, but it really is not worth the uncomfortable mess and the clean up required afterwards.  No.  I will likely give myself a few days rest from the bike, then set up the indoor trainer.

That means I need to get the rear wheel of my road bike rebuilt.  I rode my old Neuvation wheels one season too many, paid for it by a spoke nipple cracking the rear hoop and breaking through.  I need a new hoop.  Problem is that my car and family have required more than my bank account can handle, so I have put off replacing the wheel.  With my back up wheel loaned out to a friend and my back up bike sold for car repair money back in September, I may be forced to break out the old steel hybrid to ride on the trainer.  Such is life.

Until the end of December, I have access to the work out room at my office complex.  It’s equipped with bikes and nice big TVs, as well as a full weight room.  I will go there too, probably working out at the end of my work day.  Between Christmas and New Year’s, our three person office is moving out of the Regus center where we are renting individual offices.  We are leasing our own office suite, a very nice suite with our own lobby, glass fronts to each office, a large office for our managing director with room for a conference table.  It’s exciting for us because it feels like we are taking the next step to growth.

My little company is growing.  Well, it’s not “mine”, it’s the USA subsidiary to a Hungarian company, but since our subsidiary is just three people — managing director, office manager, and me (owner of many hats/responsibilities) — each of us feels like the subsidiary is ours.  In my first year with the company, our subsidiary won the global sales award and exceeded our sales goal by quite a bit.  We just signed a 2.3 million dollar contract with a company who wants to private label one of our products in the USA, as well as locking in several $100K orders with a few more cooking.  I am one busy man.  I like that.  I am getting credit from my boss for being a busy man, rewarded on a regular basis, and the three of us are working very well together.  It shows.

I could pick out the negatives of working for a Hungarian company.  There are several that make my work days challenging, but those challenges also are part of what makes my job interesting.

So I sit at the kitchen table, listening to the music I like, writing, waiting for my slumbering 16 year old to trudge out of bed in a few hours.  He will likely wake up in time for me to fix breakfast/lunch for him.

There is another person with me who likes the first snow of the year.  I absolutely love watching him dive into the snow as soon as I let him out the door.  Nick the sheltie is a little kid when it comes to snow, mesmerized by the white magic outside.  His thick coat of fur is perfect for this snow, so much that he is more comfortable outside when it snows.


This is an old picture, but I have already been greeted several times by a snow covered Nick.  He looks just like the picture right now!


NaNo 2015

20151111_205439This is the strangest NaNoWriMo that I have ever done.  Usually I spend the month of October in preparation for the November frenzy, do everything I can once November 1 comes around to squeeze some time to write in.  I have failed more times than I have succeeded in terms of making the 50,000 word goal.

I have no aspirations of ever being a published author.  There is something about attempting to write for 30 days that I like.  Once the month is finished, whether I make the goal or not, I enjoy going back over the manuscript that I have created, relishing in what reads well and anguishing over the majority.

This NaNo I approached in a different manner.  This was casual.  Come November 1, I still did not have a clue what story would come out of me.  So I chose to write scenes.  As far as word count is concerned, that has led to success, to the tune of more the 25,000 words the first four days of November.

Yeah.  I don’t believe it either.  It’s true.

November 11.  Over 30,000 words of a collection of scenes that might actually make a story some day.  We shall see.

It feels eerie to be this far ahead.  Eerie.

Trail Tour of Heaven

I talk a lot about my favorite place to ride my mountain bike, Saw Wee Kee park (Oswego, Illinois), but I really haven’t shared much beyond the parking lot.  Today I thought I would take advantage of a quiet day on the trails, with time to pause, and take some pictures along the way.  Here in northern Illinois, most of the trees have just finished shedding their leaves, changing the views in the woods.  So much of what was behind all the foliage is now in clear view, adding even more beauty to the woods at Saw Wee Kee.  The riding there is challenging and an absolute blast, but the peace of the place might be just as beneficial as the exercise.  Saw Wee Kee is a hidden gem in Chicagoland, passed over by the magnificence of Palos Forest Preserve, but I like SWK just as much.  I am glad that it’s not well known as Palos.  Like the dessert that my son didn’t know was in the fridge, there’s more for me!

Yesterday my boss gifted me with today off for good behavior, as well as letting me out at noon yesterday.  He reminded me that I have covered for him a ton lately, secured a great deal of business for our little company.  It’s nice for work to be acknowledged and my boss does a great job of doing that.  When he delivered the news to me yesterday, he walked through the door of my office with a huge smile on his face, made a pedaling motion with his hands as he told me to get out of the office early for a ride.

I did.  It was 70 degrees yesterday, sunny, with a pleasant breeze.  Palos is a rare treat for me, so I dashed off for three and a half hours of riding at Palos.  That place is mountain bike heaven, as well as a place with spectacular scenery.  There are woods, lakes, a canal, meadows, and some of the most challenging trails in the Midwest.  Saw Wee Kee is small with roughly 7 miles of trails.  Palos has nearly 30 miles of trails.  I squeezed every last ounce of daylight out of yesterday afternoon, left the parking lot for home with the headlights of the VW blazing.

Today was my fourth day in a row of mountain biking.  As my bike fanatic friend across the big lake commented on his blog, it’s been more like May than November.  Tuesday and Wednesday were butt crack of dawn rides at Saw Wee Kee, fog shrouded hour long jaunts in the woods, worth the effort of getting to the trails before the sun’s rays.  I am going to squeeze as much outdoor riding out of this year as I can!

OK.  I did mention a tour of Saw Wee Kee.  You’re going to see pictures from the back and middle of the park, but not the front section of trails.  I always warm up by heading towards the back of the park, then hitting the middle and finishing at the front (and then head back for another round or two).  I got tired of stopping to take pictures!

Riding Saw Wee Kee park can be intimidating for the first timer there.  Here is the trail description from the CAMBR (the organization that develops and maintains of road trails in the Chicago area) web site:

Palos could be considered the preferred child of the Chicago area trail systems. It gets the most attention and is the one people will most likely talk about. By comparison, Saw Wee Kee is more like the wild child. The terrain is more untamed and throws more at you per mile that its big brother. While the roughly 7 miles of trail might seem small compared to what Palos offers, you’ll find that you work a lot harder to cover that distance than you would at Palos.

The reason: Saw Wee Kee Park is teeming with dirt mounds! Once upon a time, the park was a strip mine and piles or rows of mined earth were deposited around the property. That has turned out to be an exceptional gift for mountain bikers—most of the trails course around and over the lumpy and long-since reforested terrain, making for a truly unique riding experience for this area.

Local riders compare the park to an amusement park, and have named many trails after roller coasters: Vertical Velocity, Wildcat, Anaconda, Colossus…. These trails offer short but sometimes steep climbs, lots of low rollers, quick turns, and winding decents. Overall elevation change here is minor, but the frequent climbs over the mounds give your legs a good workout nonetheless.

This is not purely a playground for those with well-developed leg muscles. There are trails for less-experienced riders too, like Cotton Candy and Lolligagger. And all riders can try the roller coasters trails, if they don’t mind dismounting from time to time.

20151106_11135020151106_111406I have to add that Saw Wee Kee is next to the Fox River, adding to the scenic beauty of the park.  One has to take a short road along the river to get to the park, with a choice of two parking lots along the road.  The first parking lot has a boat and kayak launch.  I always start from the second parking lot.

Saw Wee Kee’s trails are shared use trails, meaning that the trails are used by mountain bikes, horses, and hikers.  No motorized vehicles are allowed.  It’s not uncommon to see horses reined at the rail you can see in the background of the first picture.  Today, I shared the trail with a few runners who like to train on the rough and rocky terrain.

20151106_111913From the parking lot, the trail is a slightly steep and sandy singletrack trail.  I take a right to enter the twisty and rolling connector trail called Bobcat to the middle of the park.  The connector makes a quick dip and over a log obstacle, then gives the choice of going left or right.  I take the right over a fun series of bumps (the term is pump track) that I can catch air on if I give a little extra effort.  By the way, most of these pictures don’t do the steep drops and climbs justice.  The picture to the right is taken looking back on the pump section and that section, while not scary, is definitely not flat.

20151106_112345From the first set of pumps, I follow the trail to the right, take the widetrack of Bobcat to a small side shoot called Cat’s Tail and join the widetrack trail called Lolligagger.  It’s a good warm up and, by the time I get to Lolligagger, I am warm enough to be spinning fairly fast.  Off Lolligagger is a fast, flowy, twisty, fun trail called Jack Rabbit.  On the Saw Wee Kee map the Jack Rabbit trail is classified moderate difficulty.  If ridden fast it throws some fairly challenging tricks at me.  I have been on that trail with my friend Jon, a Strava fan, and we have done that trail fast enough to be among the top riders.  That gives this old man an ego boost.

20151106_112920Jack Rabbit joins up with a trail called Devil’s Dip, a trail that starts with a fairly steep and very rocky drop, leading along the Fox River to a wide track trail called Cotton Candy.  Since the trees have dropped their leaves, there is a spectacular view across the river.  I love looking at the cabin and houses on the other side.

20151106_113308After the first view of the river (pictured above), Devil’s Dip takes one more roller coaster like dip to join Cotton Candy.  I take a trail right after the dip that undulates, then drops sharply to a water crossing (dry today), where the challenging ups and downs, back and forth of the Colossus begins.  The picture looks tame, but the descent is rough and made more difficult by the sharp left turn immediately after the crossing, followed by several very steep and twisting climbs.  I like the Colossus trails, namely because there are a few short steeps that always are tough to climb.  If I pick the wrong line, slip or bounce on the way up, I am forced to quickly clip out of my pedal to keep from falling.

20151106_113807Colossus also offers up some unique beauty.  There are ponds and swamps that have formed in between the berms of Saw Wee Kee.  Colossus offers enough elevation to give a good view of the peaceful ponds there, especially this time of year.

20151106_11424120151106_114426The trails of Colossus are mostly sandy, very soft in some areas.  Those soft sands are fun simply because it takes the right amount of speed and powerful quads to keep from sinking to a stop.  I also see the most wildlife when riding Colossus — turkey and white tail deer.  This morning there was evidence of those deer.  I had to laugh at the irony of seeing the tire track next to the hoof print in the sand.

20151106_120125There is a large campground along the back border of Saw Wee Kee.  Often, especially on weekend afternoons, I encounter hikers from the campground.  There is a latrine with actual toilets (not a pit toilet) there that I will use for “personal emergencies”, preferred to using the woods and the plastic baggie with TP that I keep in my hydration pack.  For the past few months, there was a person living in a tent at the very back of the campground, close to the river.  His tent was visible from the back of the Colossus trail.  Rumor is that it was a guy who builds haunted houses, here to work until after Halloween.  His tent and car was there when I rode last Tuesday morning, gone when I rode Wednesday.

20151106_120337From the back of the park, off of Colossus and on a high berm, is where I head next.  This picture does not do this drop justice.  At the bottom there are three very fast pumps.  It is an absolute blast, but it’s treacherous if I am not ready.  As soon as I start the drop, my big butt is over the back of my bike’s seat to keep from going over the handlebar.  When I ride this drop, the smile on my face is so huge that it hurts!

20151106_121327I join back up with Cotton Candy and ride back towards the middle of the park, taking a fun (and unofficial) trail called Butterburger along the way, then usually travel to one of the most popular sections of the park — the Concession Stand.  There are four screaming drops there.  One Sunday afternoon, I rode with a guy who put on a show for some young hikers watching us ride the Concession Stand, catching some major air much to the admiration of the young onlookers.

By the time I finish Colossus, I am definitely warmed up.  When I get to the Concession Stand, I have roughly 2-3 miles under my belt.  That doesn’t sound like much, but those trails require a lot of effort.  I feel good if I maintain a 10 mph average to that point.

20151106_122444From there I meander through the Dominator and over the log bridge there, or through another challenging connector that spits me out at the entrance to Vertical Velocity or the exit from Anaconda.  Those trails are rated moderate to difficult, lead to some of the most fun/challenging rides in the park on trails like Wildcat, Timberwolf, Coney Island, Boulderdash, Vortex (one of my faves), and Kentucky Rumbler.  Today, I wanted to ride those trails instead of taking pictures.  Sorry!

20151106_125004After it’s all done, it’s back to the parking lot.  Today, I came back for a quick breather in the parking lot, interrupted a couple locked in a lustful embrace, an obvious tryst.  That’s one of the results of the remote location of the park.  I did not take a picture.  Most days, though, the parking lot is a place to enjoy the company of the other bikers who are basking in the glow of the wonderful sport of mountain biking at Saw Wee Kee.  I have made a lot of friends in my years riding Saw Wee Kee.

I hope you enjoyed this not so brief account and tour.  If anyone wants to join me for a ride when visiting Chicagoland, let me know.  I love to share the fun!

That Burning…. Question

I remember where I was that fateful day, that day when.  You know what I mean, at least I think you might, because there are a whole lot of people in the same boat as me.

That day when you discovered The Walking Dead.

My life has never been the same since.  I was stranded in my bed, helpless, just like Rick Grimes, unable to move, drugged and oblivious to the world around me.  Muscle relaxers had left me in a haze, my lower back a nightmare that sought relief.  That relief was found binge watching the entire first season on my iPod.

Ever since a question has haunted me.  Through six seasons watching I have seen Shane succumb to his crazy lust, Andrea’s inability to kill that which she knew would eventually kill her, the Governor massacred during his rage fueled by insane revenge, countless characters dead by weakness.  Most just did not have what it takes to survive a zombie apocalypse.  And I ask myself — do I, Steve, have what it takes to survive a zombie apocalypse?

There has to be a Facebook quiz that will answer that question for me.

Choosing my best weapon would not be all that difficult.  I can’t shoot a gun, don’t have a clue on how to use a gun.  A gun would be out for me.  Zombies would be slathering me in Heinz 57 before I figure a gun out.

I think one of those samurai swords that Michonne uses would be cool, but frankly I am pretty sure that sooner or later I would end up accidentally sitting on it.  Now and then, I get a case of the klutz.

A crossbow might be practical, just as cool as a sword.  But there is the annoyance of carrying around arrows and retrieving them bloody from a redeceased zombie.  Cleaning would be necessary.  I am a guy.  Enough said.

Guns and samarai swords would be in short supply during a zombie apocalypse, I imagine.  My weapon of choice would be much easier to find, something I am very familiar with.

BaseballFuries_vice_670A baseball bat.  Easy to use.  Simple to carry.  No need to load it with bullets.  Precision is not required.  Even Donald Trump could use a baseball bat.

And a nice, big, huge, humongous hunting knife to use as a backup… and to slice my salami.  In a zombie apocalypse, I would survive on salami and Twinkies, washed down with cherry Koolaid.

I would survive a zombie apocalypse.  No doubts here.  There’s no question that I could slay zombies.  I have the gumption.  To kill a zombie, I would just imagine that each one was my ex-boss.

Would you survive?


Pumped and posing

Pumped and posing

I have some big ones and I am proud of it.   Guns.  Cyclist guns.

When this picture was taken last Friday, I had just finished two days of riding, was just a few minutes off of my bicycle.  My quads were screaming at me, but they were pumped.

Contrary to what you might think, I do not spend hours in front of a mirror flexing my leg muscles.  I do admire them now and then.  Is it wrong?

And if you really want to look like a strong man, stand next to the guy with the skinniest legs.  My friend, Frank, is one of those guys.  He is strong, though.  No one can drop him when we ride the road.

Now to work on the rest of the old man….

Oops, I Did It Again

Yes, another bike trip.  Yes, another two days of picture perfect weather.  Yes, yes, and again I say yes.  Brown County State Park (Indiana) rocks.  The trails there are so much fun — fast and flowy in some places, rocky and challenging in others, with spectacular climbs and views.

Ah, yes (I said it again), the views.  Right now it is the beginning of the Fall foliage viewing season in southern Indiana.  Every hotel in the area was booked to capacity, the campground at the state park full.  The place is awesome.  This was my third year in a row for a mountain bike trip with my friends to Brown County.  The weather the last two days was the best we have had.

Hesitation Point is my favorite view and we parked there yesterday, started our ride from that point.  Thus, I was able to take my yearly picture from there.DSC_0455


My confidence is growing on the bike, evidenced by my performance.  I have learned to carve a trail and I left my friends behind on the fast downhills, forgetting that my bike has brakes.  Jon and I waited at the bottom of several trails for Mike and Frank to catch up, many times, something that makes me feel really good.  Mike and Frank have kicked my butt for years on the road.  Neither is a slouch on a mountain bike.  Not only did I kick butt on the fast downhills, but I was riding the rocky sections  today without fear, leaving the guys behind on a trail where I usually am left behind — Walnut.  My walnuts were big today.  That trail is a lot of up and down, rocky step ups and switch backs that in years past scared me into a dismount.  On the Hesitation Point trail, not only did I attempt a rock section that I wouldn’t try before, I completed it.

My buddies cheered me on, encouraged me as they watched from the side of the trail.  Jon commented on how I corrected my balance to find the line.  I felt like a different rider.  It has been years since I have had the confidence and fitness that I found today.

I went on this trip with my parents’ blessing.  Dad made it through Tuesday’s surgery, the doctors refusing to take the risk of open heart surgery, surprised that the angioplasty was as successful as it was.  Dad came home from the hospital on Thursday, is upbeat and ready for more living.  After his first heart attack, Dad came back very well, rode a bike event with me three months later.  He won’t be able to do that this time as he will have to slow down a bit, but I am sure he will be fine.

During that bike ride with my dad, a group zipped by us.  At that time, I was in very good riding shape.  Dad looked at my with a wry smile on his face.

“I bet you can’t catch them.  Go ahead and try.  I’ll buy you a Coke if you catch them and take the front.”

He bought me that Coke.  I caught them.. quickly.

Fear for my Father

He wrapped me in a tight hug, really not what I was used to from my usually stoic father, the tears welling up in his eyes before pulling me to him.  The air around us was cold, yet it felt warm in the afternoon sun, one of those nice February days that comes along some central Illinois Februaries.

“I’m sorry, son, and I love you.  I hope you know that.  I have needed to tell you that for years.”

It had been years, probably ten or more, yet the weight of the mistake stayed with my father.  Indeed it had been a mistake, one of those times when stress and fatigue caught up with us both.

I rubbed my chin as dad let go of me, fighting my own tears.  The words to say were not coming to me, an unusual occurrence.  There is a little scar on my chin, the smoothness reminded me it was there and I knew how it had gotten there.  Dad had swung at me that night ten years prior, missed with his fist, but the watch on his wrist had dug into my chin as it passed.

“I know, Dad.  I have known.  You didn’t really need to say that, but I am glad you did.  I love you too.”

Miriam and the kids hugged my parents, loaded themselves in our car, and we drove away as my parents waved at us from their front porch, the tears in their eyes clearly visible.

The thing is, Dad really didn’t need to say those words to me.  It wasn’t that the apology wasn’t appreciated, it just was that I was just as wrong as he was that night.  In reality, my father hasn’t made enough “mistakes” with me to warrant remembering any of them.  That he needed to say he was sorry like that says a lot about the man — because that incident was the closest he had ever come to what could be considered a mistake with me.  His apology was one of many examples of character my father has demonstrated to me over the years.

My dad is one of the best.  Through my dad’s example I have learned about the importance of loyalty, faith, love, and trust.  Dad loves God in a simple way, one that has showed me that believing is enough.  He loves my mom, needs her, depends on her and has stayed with her, their bond strong through years of perseverance.  I have watched my dad build houses, work long hours at his job yet have the energy to give to his family when he got home.  My dad values people, wants to know something about the people he meets, always finds something to admire in them.  I am my dad that way.. and I like that.  Dad coached my baseball teams, stuck up for me when I needed him to, punished me fairly and taught me what was right.  I always have known what he expects from me, yet he never has demanded anything from me.  To this day, my father is one of the strongest people that I know — physically, mentally, and morally.

Tonight, I am a bit scared.  Dad had a heart attack last Thursday, the second one he has had.  It seemed mild.  Mom talked him into going to the hospital after he started experiencing discomfort while climbing a ladder (his fifth trip of the day).  He was admitted for observation at the hospital while tests were performed.  Mom called Saturday.  Dad was going to need open heart surgery, a triple bypass. Three arteries were 60 to 85 percent clogged.

OK.  Open heart surgery is not as big of a deal as it once was.  While we weren’t quite expecting to hear the news, we knew that a successful surgery would be productive and chances of a good recovery were favorable.  The doctors were to meet with my parents today, tell them what to expect and then the surgery would be performed this week.

That meeting did not go well.  Dad has a large calcified clot in his heart.  There is too much risk to perform heart surgery.

Thus my fear.  The doctors are not painting a rosy picture.  They are preparing us for the worst.  Suddenly, I go from having a strong and healthy father to one who may not be around much longer.  While I am not afraid for him to go, I am not ready for him to leave yet either.  Believing in God the way my family does, we look forward to what is on the other side.  But I am not ready to be without an earthly father yet.  I still need him, need the wisdom and friendship he gives me.

And so I wait.  I’m not sure what to do.  Mom says to wait, don’t come down to visit yet, take that mountain bike trip I planned with the guys this week.  That’s hard to do when I don’t know if something is going to happen.

Pa Hits The Kettle

IMG_3371This is an awful picture of me, but the only one I have from yesterday’s outing.  As you can see, I made it up but not over the big rock.  Dang.  My friends, Mike and Jon, rolled over it like it was a little bump in the road.

Took me three tries, but I made it over.  I was having such a good ride, no way was I going to let that big rock throw off the ride.

I have vacation days to burn, just in case you might be wondering why I was off traipsing through the woods on my mountain bike with friends instead of working.  My boss approached me a few weeks ago and encouraged me to take some days off.

“You don’t get paid for them if you don’t take them.”

So my friends and I took advantage of a perfect, sunny, 68 degree day to take a short jaunt to the Kettle Moraine forest region of southern Wisconsin.  The Kettle is about a 90 minute drive, if it is that far, from the western suburbs of Chicago.  There are some wonderful mountain bike trails there — the John Muir and Emma Carlin trails.

It is real obvious that all of the riding that I have been doing is paying off.  Almost all day, I was either leading in or was right on my friend Jon’s back wheel.  Mike was along for the ride, a good road rider but still learning how to handle a mountain bike.  Jon and I can carve a trail while barely touching our brakes, but Mike ends up in the woods if he tries to do that.  He does, however, go up and over most obstacles real well for a noob.  That rock in the picture was nothing for Mike to negotiate.

My phone app showed five hours, sixteen minutes of ride time with over 32 miles of singletrack covered, roughly a 6 mph average, close to 2500 calories burned.  It doesn’t sound like much, but you would think differently if you tried to keep up with us.  The Emma Carlin portion of the trail is a huge amount of climbing over very rocky terrain.  Most of the trails had a lot of rocks and roots to negotiate.

We were treated to pine, cedar, oak forests along with green meadow to cross in between.  At one point, we disturbed a flock of what must have been at least twenty wild turkey.  Twice we stopped at scenic overlooks that gave us an awesome view of the Wisconsin hill country.  We didn’t stop much or for very long when we did.  The day was for riding, the sights right there as we pedaled along.

Our longest stop was for lunch at a pleasant deli and bike shop close to the John Muir trailhead.  Fueled up, we hit the trails for another two hours before loading up Jon’s van and heading home.

Saturday will bring another morning of riding, our usual Palos forest preserve ride.  In a few weeks, October 22-23, it’s our annual guys mountain bike trip to Brown County State Park, Indiana.

I am feeling so good on the bike right now.  Jon and Mike both commented yesterday about how it is real obvious having a new bike has raised the bar for me.  My weight is down quite a bit (I don’t know how much, but it has to be more than ten pounds).  That also makes a big difference in performance as well as endurance.  Had I tried a five plus hour day like yesterday a few months ago, I would have been dead tired and sore when I got home.  Last night and this morning, I felt like I could have climbed on the bike again for another few hours!

More bike stories to come….


Tonight I have a glow and maybe, just maybe, it’s from something other than all the time in on the bicycle this weekend.  Maybe.  If this marker still provided accurate information, then I would have been standing right on top of buried nuclear waste, in my bicycle shorts.

9562This marker lies out in the middle of a clearing in the middle of the woods, smack dab (I love saying ‘smack dab’) in the way of a singletrack trail at the Palos forest preserve, a Chicagoland treasure.  Now and then I take that trail and I always have to stop to read the marker’s warning.

Caution – Do Not Dig.  Buried in this area is radioactive material from nuclear research conducted here 1943-1949.  Burial area is marked by six corner markers 100 ft. from this center point.  There is XX danger to visitors — U.S. Department of Energy 1978

The buried waste isn’t there any more, but it’s kind of fun to think about.  As well, the marker is a good place to rest.  To get to the meadow it rests in, a long twisting, steep trail has to be traversed, the last 50 yards or so the steepest with a lot of loose sand that complicates the climb.

My friend Jon took the picture of the marker early yesterday morning, sent it to me by text as we rested with our bikes next to the marker.  Riding the trails had been a little bit more complicated due to the moisture falling from the sky at the time, making the trails a bit slick in places.  It didn’t rain enough to stop us from riding three hours.  Jon and I are the dedicated ones, our buddies chose to sleep in since the forecast was very cool temperatures with rain.  Our luck was good.  The rain was light when it did rain.  The low to mid 50’s temperature helped keep us fresh.  I had to cut our ride short, we had planned to ride four hours, a broken left pedal the bad guy that stole that fourth hour from us.  I had plenty left in my tank.

That’s why I was fresh enough to ride another three hours this afternoon.  Since I was riding by myself (I couldn’t coax my sixteen year old off of the couch), I elected to try out a place that was on my list of must see rides — Raceway Woods forest preserve in Carpentersville, Illinois.  Rather than couch potato for the Bears game, I replaced the broken pedal with a spare pedal (I will not lament my hatred of removing pedals from a bicycle — although this removal went fairly smooth), then loaded up the bike on the VW for the 20 mile trip to Raceway Woods.

20151004_172951 20151004_173014What a cool place!  Greeting me as I pulled into the parking lot is the original silo from the old Meadowdale International Raceway that occupied the site from 1938 to 1969.  Once abandoned, the raceway was forgotten and taken over by the woods in and around it.  The silo that had marked the raceway was about to be demolished, but was rescued by locals who wanted to restore the landmark.  After that, the forest preserve was established.

An asphalt path follows the original raceway pavement, still intact in many places, including the pit areas.  The guardrails can still be seen even though the forest claimed them long ago.  Nature trails and singletrack bike trails have been carved into the woods inside and surrounding the original race track.

20151004_164912I went there for a casual ride on the singletrack, but found myself drawn in by imagination, my bike tires riding the same race track that cars had raced on decades ago.  Little side paths called to me to explore, most leading no where except a dead end.  One even ended with a barrier of piled limbs and debris, a no trespassing sign accompanied by the threat of a vicious dog that most certainly lurked beyond the barrier.  I didn’t dare ignore the warning.

Some of the singletrack trails had obviously been established by local mountain bikers, the terrain and remote woods a great place for trails.  Those were the trails I enjoyed exploring the most, one trail leading to a suicidal drop off, avoided by taking another small path to the right, leading to a murderously steep drop into a opening below.  There was a bail out to the right, a narrow path along the top of a berm, a treacherous drop off on the left as it took me to the opening.  From there, it lead to the ominous warning signs at the dead end.

The front of the Raceway Woods was a nice set of singletrack trails, most likely established when the Chicago Area Mountain Bike Riders (CAMBR) trail advocacy group took over maintenance of the Raceway Woods system.  They have established some nice smooth and flowing singletrack trails, especially fun when ridden from the top down, fast with lots of sweeping banked turns and little jumps thrown in for good measure.

The last two months have provided some of the best riding that I have had in years.  My endurance is at a peak, my muscles solid from the exercise, my weight dropping off so much that I…ummmm… well… am not ashamed to look in the mirror so much any more.  Riding will do that to a person.

I am enjoying this while I can.  October is going to zoom by, November will bring colder temperatures and shorter days.  Come December, I will be smiling at the memories of the rides I have had this year.  Good rides.  On a bike I thought I would never have, part of the reason these rides have been so good.  God has been good to me, is reminding me that I am blessed.  God.. and bikes… will do that to a person….

Blood, Sweat, and Gears

The single track trails at Palos Forest Preserve are some of my favorite trails to ride, a treat that I don’t get to indulge in very often simply because getting to them involves braving the traffic on interstates 88/355/55, a long drive with the traffic factor included.  Saturday morning is a different story, the drive a mere 30 minutes or less (the VW dirty diesel likes to go fast).  September is when my road riding friends start thinking mountain bike instead, so most Saturday mornings find me bombing the trails at Palos with friends.  We meet in the Bullfrog parking lot just before sunrise, ready for three hours or more of time on the trails together.

If I come out of a ride without a bump or bruise or contusion or thorn induced scratch or sprain, then it wasn’t a normal Saturday morning ride.  Part of the recipe of guy time is challenge — male bonding must involve a bit of competition and sweat.  Blood, sweat, and gears.  Many of our rides together are remembered by an injury that occurred during that ride:

  • The “Face” ride — Jim literally flew into the first ravine of the Three Ravines trails, his face meeting a limb in mid air.  We pulled a dazed Jim out of the ravine, his face bloodied from a large gash above his eye.  Jim is a tough guy, a liver transplant survivor, and he insisted on riding another two hours with us that day.  He talked nonsense most of that two hours, so it was a bit worrisome.
  • The “Swinging Arm” ride — Jon is one heck of a rider, an energizer bunny type who will just ride and ride and ride and then ride some more.  While riding the XX trail, a series of rocky challenges, Jon’s front wheel met a rock slick and wet, sending him violently down a steep drop off to his right.  His arm hit a rock on the way down, the rock breaking his arm directly below the elbow, rendering his arm useless.  Jon insisted to ride back to the parking lot with us, a series of steep climbs and close to three miles of riding, his arm swinging down at his side as he rode.  How Jon rode back to the parking lot without passing out is a mystery.

And then there is my bum knee.  Cycling is good for keeping the creak out of that joint, until I do something stupid.  When I am out riding with the guys, that is bound to happen sooner or later.  Last year I twisted the knee when I put my foot down at the top of a steep rut, the dirt slick from the morning dew, as I tried to keep my bike from falling into the rut.  I didn’t just feel the pop in my knee as it turned the wrong way while I and my bike fell into that rut.. I heard it pop.  I cried out like a little boy, my friends ready to rescue me.  I pulled myself up, threw my leg back over the bike, and finished the ride.  My knee screamed at me the rest of the way.  I spent the rest of the day and part of the next with my knee propped up, an ice bag in place to hold down the swelling.

20150927_154752Last Saturday was this year’s knee day.  Oops.  Ain’t I gots sexy knees?  Problem is that right now was just a bit swollen.  I would love to say that I messed it up doing something tough.  Nope.  I fell as I was rolling to a stop.  I stood off the seat for a second, then actually missed the seat with my butt as I attempted to sit back down.  Folks, that’s nearly an impossible thing to do.  My butt isn’t petite.

I ignored the knee after I got home Saturday, instead spending the rest of the day outside sealing the asphalt driveway.  The good thing about that was I felt no guilt parking my butt on the couch all Sunday afternoon and evening.  By Monday, most of the swelling was gone.  I feel good today.  Tomorrow I ride again.

Now for the annual guy trip to Brown County, Indiana for two days of mountain biking….